By Shyam Khosla
The confrontation between the ruling alliance and the Opposition, lead-ing to the stalling of parliamentary proceedings for weeks on end and the subsequent boycott of parliamentary committees by the BJP-led NDA, has done no good to the polity. The no-holds barred confrontation has prevented the elected representatives of the people to discuss and debate important issues that confront the nation and denied the Parliament the benefit of an in-depth discussion on the Budget proposals. Blaming the Opposition for the stalemate will serve no purpose as there were compelling reasons that forced the BJP to take this drastic step. Absence of Opposition members from the meetings of the standing and consultative committees of Parliament will greatly undermine their credibility and usefulness.
The Prime Minister must act, and act swiftly, to bring about reconciliation between his government and the Opposition. Prolonged confrontation will undermine public faith in the parliamentary democracy and bring to naught the committee system that helps Parliament to scrutinise and vet budgetary proposals and demands for grants for ministries before these are put to vote in the Lok Sabha.
The Opposition'slist of grievances is long. The ruling alliance'sconfrontationist approach forced the BJP to launch a counterattack. In the process, the government was denied the customary ?honeymoon? period. Under tremendous pressure from the communists and Leftist historians, HRD Minister Arjun Singh acted with indecent haste to change NCRT textbooks that were introduced after wide consultations during the NDA regime. The Supreme Court had upheld the school curriculum under which these books were written. The communists that are holding the government to ransom on major issues, want to push their agenda by brainwashing the students with the failed ideology and re-introduce distortions in textbooks that were removed in recent years.
Those who are booked for violation of the law restricting assembly of five or more persons cannot be put at par with persons charged with corruption, murder or rape. L.K. Advani saw that difference and acted accordingly. He didn'tresign when he was charge-sheeted for the demolition of disputed structure but resigned his seat in Lok Sabha and vowed not to return to Parliament till he was cleared of charges in the Hawala case.
The removal of Governors on ?ideological? grounds was an assault on the precedent set by the NDA government. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee'sstatement condemn-ing the Opposition for preventing the Speaker from having his say is yet another cause of hurt to the BJP. It wants the minister to withdraw his statement or the Speaker to expunge it.
A major confrontation developed on the Opposition'sdemand to remove tainted ministers?several of them are facing trial on criminal charges and are on bail. To say, as many a communist and a section of the media is saying, that the NDA government too had ?tainted? ministers and that crime is a crime and the distinction between political and criminal cases is ?artificial? is a classic case of sophistry. Every crime has a distinct enormity attached to it. This writer, for one, is proud that he was sentenced to 18 months? rigorous imprisonment for offering satyagraha against the ban on RSS imposed in the wake of Mahatma'sassassination. Political crimes are different from crimes involving moral turpitude.
Those who are booked for violation of the law restricting assembly of five or more persons cannot be put at par with persons charged with corruption, murder or rape. L.K. Advani saw that difference and acted accordingly. He didn'tresign when he was charge-sheeted for demolition of the disputed structure but resigned his seat in Lok Sabha and vowed not to return to Parliament till he was cleared of charges in the Hawala case. Those who insist that a ?crime is a crime is a crime?, as an editorial writer insists, are trying to put the crime of violating a traffic law at par with the attack on Parliament by the terrorists. They are undermining the concept of political morality by equating Advani and Joshi with Laloo Yadav and Shibu Soren.
Then there is the case of the fugitive minister. The Prime Minister waited too long to seek the minister'sresignation. And that too when Joshi clubbed him with Shibu Soren as an ?absconder?. Why couldn'tDr Manmohan Singh sack the fugitive minister as soon as the court issued a non-bailable warrant against him? Was he waiting for a signal from the Super Prime Minister or the Congress party'sconscience-keepers, Harkrishen Singh Surjeet and Laloo Yadav?
In the parliamentary system of government, the Opposition has the right to oppose the policies and actions of the government while acting according to the rules of the game. Walkouts and verbal exchanges are acceptable norms of expressing disagreement and dissent. Of late, rushing to the well of the House and stalling proceedings that cripple the functioning of Parliament have become too frequent for comfort. Discerning citizens don'tappreciate prolonged boycotts and disruptions. Parliament is a forum for discussion and debate and not a platform to score brownie points. If this trend continues, people will lose faith in the system. This may cause incalculable harm to the polity. It is, therefore, high time that the Speaker and the Chairman take appropriate initiatives to lay down the rules of the game by evolving a broad consensus among the parties represented in the Parliament.
Unfortunately, the Speaker is in an unenviable position. He has been accused of being partisan and was provoked to confess that he is a ?Stalinist?. The tradition of the person elected as Speaker distancing from the party that sends him to Parliament needs to be revived. Under the circumstan-ces, the Prime Minister'srole has become more pronounced. Let him speak to the former Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition to hammer out a solution to end the impasse. Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who has excellent relations with all the parties, may also be helpful in evolving a formula to persuade the Opposition to end its boycott of parliamentary committees. The BJP has some of the best parliamentarians in both the Houses. Why can'tit resist the temptation to boycott proceedings to protest against ruling party'shigh-handedness and use its parliamentary skills to score over the ruling alliance? That will be a better path for the party to regain its high moral ground.